Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Everyday differences in Puglia: Dustbins

There was outcry in the UK when communal bins were suggested [1]. In Italy they are the norm (as far as I can see); the Italians seem to manage OK with on-street bins.

In rural Italy (and indeed rural UK) door-to-door rubbish collections really don't make sense. They are commonplace in the UK if you live in a block of flats anyway so I am not sure what all the fuss is about.

The exception in Italy is the centro storico (historic centre) where the narrow winding streets of Locorotondo or Cisternino simply do not have room for big bins. There the locals put out a carrier bag of rubbish each night for early morning collection.

Italian dustbin

Our road has one for the entire street. It is a no-through-road so everyone has to pass it on their way anywhere and taking your rubbish with you is part of the daily routine.

They are useful local landmarks - "for Anne's house turn left at the fourth dustbin". They also serve as impromptu recycling centres: if you place some serviceable, but unwanted, item next to the bin it will often be gone the next time you pass by.

[1] Daily Mail: Dumpster nightmare

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 4-6. For more information visit http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/trulloazzurro

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wandle River Restoration Days - Summer/Autumn 2011

Latest newsletter from http://www.wandletrust.org/

Wandle Trust logo
River Restoration Days
Summer/Autumn 2011
Butter Hill Bridge to Wilderness Island
Hello Everyone

Following on from the WTT practical visit on Sunday 27th February when we put in some logs, mini upstream 'Vs' and brash bundles into the Wandle, we'd love to have your help with more restoration work on the Wandle between Butter Hill Bridge and Wilderness Island in Carshalton.

The weir at Mill Pond Place prevents fish from moving upstream, reduces flow and causes layers of silt to form on the riverbed. In mid July the weir will be made more passable to fish and gravel will be added to the river bed by specialist contractors. After which, habitat improvement works will take place.

The work will include introducing faggot bundles into the river to narrow the channel; planting behind the bundles; pinning coir rolls; pinning upstream 'Vs' and logs; making and introducing 'Lunker' structures and making and installing 'Dragon's Teeth' flow deflectors! Lunkers are 'coffee table like' wooden structures installed in the river to create overhead cover and resting areas for fish.

We envisage six restoration events taking place between now and the end of October.

The dates for your diaries are:

* 24th July - faggot bundles
* 31st July - planting and coir rolls
* 3rd & 4th September - woody debris installation
* 17th & 18th September - Lunker structure manufacture and installation
* 1st & 2nd October - Lunker structure manufacture and installation
* 15th & 16th October - woody debris and Dragon's teeth deflectors

We will need to limit numbers to 15 - 20 people per event for the 'hands on' work but, of course, if you want to come along and have a look at what's happening, and talk to Tim and Bella about the plans you will be most welcome.

If you'd like to be involved, please email restoration@wandletrust.org with your preferred dates. As before, we will take people on a first come first served basis. And in order to get as many different people as we can to take part, we'll try and apportion the work between you!

For more details of what's involved see this link http://www.wandletrust.org/?page_id=2539.

We will let you know times and exact locations nearer the time.

Best wishes


This work is supported by the Environment Agency, the Thames Water Habitat Fund and the WATER project selected within the scope of the INTERREG IVA France (Channel) - England cross-border European cooperation programme, co-financed by the ERDF.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson - Part 2

Having named my sheds (see Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson) I decided they should be labeled up properly. So I had two labels made and attached them to the sheds. Job done!

Shed label: Arthur
Shed label: Arthur

Shed label: Jackson
Shed label: Jackson

Doesn't everyone give their sheds names?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why I Hate My Mac

Because it makes me feel like a complete incompetent, an utter n00b.

On the Windows PC I am slick, proficient, productive. I am the go-to guy in our office if anyone needs help with Office. My fingers naturally curl into the three chords of Ctrl-C, Alt-Tab, Ctrl-V like Rick Parfitt belting out that good old Rock'n'Roll.

On the Mac everything is painfully slow and clunky. I have to use the mouse instead of the keyboard short-cuts and it takes multiple clicks to do things that I would normally accomplish in a few well chosen actions. I hate it. The Mac may be usable but it is not intuitive.

I know, I know it's a "training issue" and in six months time I may well be singing its praises like all the other Mac fanboys and geekgirls. But that's not the point. Right here, right now the learning curve is so steep it more resembles a brick wall. I have so much to unlearn and relearn it is dispiriting.  It was more of a shock because I love my iPhone and was hoping for a similarly pleasant experience but not so.

When my previous laptop died I decided I would finally make the switch after years of hearing how wonderful the Mac was. I was trepidatious because the one application I really needed, QuickBooks UK version, was not available for the Mac. No problem they say - use BootCamp. So I went and bought a top of the range MacBook Pro. Now bear in mind that not only have I never owned a Mac I have never even used a Mac but I did look over someone's shoulder once. And these are my initial experiences:

  • First impressions OK. Switching it on the layout seemed reasonably intuitive. That row along the bottom seemed to combine the functions of the Windows Start menu and quick launch and task bar. The system tray was up the top but that was fine.
  • Menu bar has moved. Clicked on a few apps and was confused by the lack of menus across the tops of the windows until I worked out that it was along the top of the screen and changed according to the active application.
  • Inconsistent app installation. Used Safari to download and install Firefox no problem. Then used Firefox to download Skype and it all went pear-shaped. I ended up with some kind of disc drive icon on my desktop instead an installed application. Not a consistent experience.
  • There was no driver for my HP LaserJet 1020. I tried Googling and installing an alternative driver which did not work and eventually used the driver for a different model but not after wasting quite some time - hardly plug and play.
  • The serial number is written on the base in minuscule font, something like 2pt, silver on silver - only just legible with a magnifying glass a close range. Made registering for the Protection Plan difficult.
  • There is no key labeled Option. This caused me some grief with Boot camp. I was asked to format the disc drive as part of the Windows install and thereafter I could only boot into Windows. With no information I had to guess what the Option key was and I guessed wrong that it was the Squiggle key. "Oh f**k", I thought, "I've gone and wiped the Mac OS! I'm going to have to go into the shop and get the bl**dy thing rebuilt." [I now know it is the alt key to the left of the Squiggle key - thank you Elizabeth]. But there was a very worrying, panic-inducing half hour.
  • There is no # key. How am I supposed to use Twitter hash tags. [I now know it is Option-3].
  • It only has two USB slots. So with the laser printer, the all-in-one scanner, the external back-up device, the wired mouse, the wireless transmitter for the separate keyboard, a USB stick and the iPhone for syncing I am quite a few slots short of a full set of peripherals. Fortunately I had a USB mini-hub in the drawer.
  • iPhoto took control. It insisted on downloading all my photos into separate events one for each day. Excuse me I want to be in charge here. I want to decide the folder structure and which photos go where. Moving photos all into one event seemed very long-winded and inefficient. [I now know there is a merge function - thank you Helen]
  • There was no equivalent of Windows explorer as far as I could see. It was several weeks until I was round at a friends house that he pointed out that it was Finder. [Thank you - Tim] The Smiley icon gave no clue, the name made me think it was a search function and using Spotlight merely reinforced that misapprehension.
  • File >> Save As >> Where give a fixed list of locations so I had to save it where I was forced to and then painfully move it using Finder (now I knew what that is). Now I know to click the drop down icon next to the file name field not the where field - how unintuitive is that?
Now I have invested in a great, thick book "Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Snow Leopard Edition" [Thank you - Ian]. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0596804253.

It's slow work though and I am very slowly creeping up the learning curve but at the moment I still hate my Mac.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Perfect 60th Wedding Anniversary Present

My bother is a star and has tracked down what is, in my opinion, the perfect present for our parents' 60th wedding anniversary. Then Jane and Mary went and added icing on the cake *and* a cherry on top.

For their honeymoon Mike and Geri went to Paris and they brought back, as a souvenir, a Madonna and Child ceramic figurine by Roger Capron. That figurine has always sat in full view in their house as long as I can remember.

Ian Googled and found a piece by Roger Capron for sale on an ceramic gallery website: a clock featuring "Les Amoureux de Peynet" - doubly symbolic for such an event.

However he got no reply from the two requests he sent and the website had no phone number nor address. I did a Whois but the registrant was shown as some ISP in Switzerland - dead end. More Googling revealed that it was a gallery in St Tropez. Still no street address and international directory enquiries had no record of the gallery - another dead end :-(

But then Natalie, Ian's Office Manager who is French, came to the rescue. I do not know how she did it but she tracked down the seller. By one of those magical coincidences the seller lived near her Grandmother who Natalie was due to visit the following weekend (you couldn't make it up). A rendezvous and exchange was arranged and the item transported to England.

Roger Capron / Raymond Peynet clock
Roger Capron / Raymond Peynet clock

Ian (and Sarah) and I went down to Farnham on Thursday for a meal and to hand over the present. Jane and Pete were in India and Mary was in South Africa but had done their own arranging. Jane discovered that the Queen not only does letters for 100th birthdays but also 60th (and 65th and 70th) wedding anniversarys. A sneak photocopy of the marriage certificate was arranged with Dad and a request to The Palace resulted in a special delivery on the day.

Mary remembered Mum once talking about how she had wanted an orchid corsage for their wedding but her future MIL went and bought a gardenia - something that has obviously rankled ever since. So what better to supplement the obligatory bunch of flowers but an orchid corsage which Mum wore for our celebratory meal.

Well done team!

In a couple of weeks time when the wanderers return to the UK we will have a follow-up family lunch with all offspring and partners down at Jane's.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Puglia May 2011

Two weekend trips to Trullo Azzurro (TA) in one month; this time our guests were Grant and Helen. It is amazing how much good stuff you can pack into a weekend.

The flight was Alitalia Heathrow to Brindisi, change at Rome. The second leg was delayed so we got in a 00:45 in the morning and fell into bed.

Since we were last out at the beginning of the month TA has been whitewashed and the olive trees pruned so the place is looking all spruced up ready for the season.

This was kindly organised by our friends Chris and John so the next morning we went round to their place early for a quick hello and to drop off a "thank you" gift. Normally we take bacon for John so this time we took Welsh spring lamb for Chris - 1.3 kg of organic, boned leg joint. The lamb went hand luggage and I was not surprised when security at Heathrow pulled over my bag for inspection. Fortunately the man was satisfied that it was the Sunday roast rather than some curious explosive device.

Then we met up with Pietro to settle our local tax bill which he had arranged to be paid. Back at TA we pottered about until the call from Grant and Helen to guide them in the last couple of km in time for lunch and relaxing. That evening it was aperitif at Bar Fod in Cisternino followed by supper at the always excellent Osteria Sant'Anna.

As luck would have it the city of Lecce were having Cortili Aperti [PDF] - Open Courtyard - where various palazzi (palaces) not normally open to the public literally opened their doors so you could look round. Many of them had live music performances as well.

Puglia May 2011 - Lecce Courtyard
Lecce Courtyard

We dropped the car off at Fasano station and took the train into Lecce which made it more of an adventure. Most of the houses had plenty of twiddly baroque carving and delightful courtyard gardens.

Puglia May 2011 - Lecce Garden
Lecce Garden

Puglia May 2011 - Lecce Street
Lecce Street

Three hours of top notch gawking and home on the train. On the way back from Fasano station we dropped in on neighbours Carole and Mino who insisted we sample their own wine that they had bottled the day before. Both white and red were very tasty and I love that you can see the very vines right next to you.

Puglia May 2011 - Mino's wine
Mino's wine

The evening was similar to the night before: Bar Fod then Osteria Bell'Italia for another typical Puglian meal. Food excellent and the house wine an amazingly quaffable EUR 6 a litre.

It was the Feast of Maria Ausiliatrice in Cisternino so we took a post-prandial meander down Via Roma to admire the illuminations and soak up the atmosphere.

Puglia May 2011 - Cisternino illuminations
Cisternino illuminations

The usual last minute headless chicken routine as we tidied up and moved things around. Retrieving the truckle bed from underneath our bed and putting it in the little sitting room involved a major Tower of Hanoi style shuffling of bicycles and bedside cabinets.

Then down to La Rotonda da Rosa for a seafood lunch and a reluctant departure to Brindisi for the flight home.

Puglia May 2011 - La Rotonda da Rosa
La Rotonda da Rosa

But never mind we are back out at the end of June for another, slightly longer weekend :-)

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 4-6. For more information visit http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/trulloazzurro

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Puglia Wine Tasting Dinner

Putney, London, England - Wednesday 25-May-2011

This meal was an opportunity to introduce our friends Tim and Sarah to the fine restaurant Enoteca Turi and get ourselves in the mood for our forthcoming trip to Puglia. As always, superb food and wine. This must be our 10th or 11th wine dinner there (plus a couple of "normal" meals).

To quote from the blurb "Peter McCombie, journalist, wine writer, consultant and one of the highest authorities on Italian wine, will explore the expression of these grapes [Primitivo, Negroamaro and Nero di Troia] in different styles, accompanied by a Puglian feast researched by Giuseppe and Head Chef Massimo"

These three varietals [Primitivo, Negroamaro and Nero di Troia] are local and endemic in Puglia but not so well known elsewhere - apart from the Primitivo which the Americans know as Zinfandel but, in my view, tastes so much better in the Italian version.

As well as being knowledgeable (as you would expect from an MW he had some sensible things to say about enjoying wine. So we did :-)

Tormaresca Masseria Maime Salento IGT, Puglia, Italy

Apulian tastes
Negroamaro IGT 2008 Il Meridione
Selection of antipasti
Aubergine involtini with scamorza, burrata and Altamura bread bruschetta
Primitivo del Salento IGT 2008 Pietrafitta
Orecchiette con cacio ricotta, rucola e pomodoro
Orecchiette with cacio ricotta, rocket and fresh tomato sauce
Il Falcone DOC Riserva 2005 Rivera
Agnello arrosto con olive e patate, pecorino e pan grattato, zucchine alla poverella
Roast organic Rhug estate new season lamb with potato and olives,
courgette poverella and toasted breadcrumbs
Le Cruste nero di Troia IGT 2005 Alberto Longo
Maime Negroamaro IGT 2006 Tormaresca
Formaggi pugliese
A selection of artisan Apulian cheeses
ES Primitivo di Manduria 2008 Gianfranco Fino
Coffee with almond nougatine sticks